How to balance work and study

Darcy Nathan, Editorial assistant
November, 2023

The rising cost of university means that students are turning to part-time work to pay the bills - discover how to hold down a job without letting your degree suffer

The cost-of-living crisis has made money a top concern for most students. Over half (52%) of respondents to the Prospects Early Careers Survey 2023 reported that money was among their biggest challenges, with juggling work and study emerging as one of the most significant obstacles students face.

Given these findings, it is no surprise that an investigation by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that 55% of students surveyed were doing paid work alongside their course, up from 45% in 2022.

When deciding whether to get a part-time job, consider the following tips on how to balance the challenges of work with your study schedule.

Finding flexible part-time work

Many students work to top up their loans and earn spare cash. When choosing a part-time job while studying, it is important to select a position that is flexible and can accommodate your academic commitments. This means looking for jobs that offer evening, weekend, or holiday shifts, as well as remote jobs that allow you to work from anywhere.

Here are some specific examples of flexible jobs that you may want to consider:

  • freelance writing or editing
  • hospitality worker
  • retail worker
  • tutoring.

When applying for jobs, be sure to mention your study commitments and ask about the flexibility of the role. Many employers are willing to work with students to create a schedule that meets their needs.

'Work in a bar or pub as hours rarely clash with university,' says Harry Swayne, an architecture student at Newcastle University. 'These employers tend to be more flexible with hours, as they are aware your education is a priority.'

Here are some tips for finding flexible part-time jobs:

  • Search online job boards and company websites - many companies now list the flexibility of the role in the job description.
  • Network with friends and classmates - they may know of job openings at companies that are flexible with student schedules.
  • Contact your university's career centre - they may have resources and job postings for students.

Open communication

Before applying for any part-time job, you should first think about your timetable.

Once you have found a part-time job, it is important to recognise your limitations and avoid taking on too much. To ensure a healthy work-study-life balance, you should aim to communicate regularly with your employer about your workload and schedule.

Be transparent about upcoming deadlines or exams - your employer will be able to discuss any flexibility or accommodations that may be possible.

Issy Jackson, a journalism student at Newcastle University, found it helpful to agree to dedicated days of work with her employer. 'It helped me set boundaries between work and study, and made work a welcome break from studying,' says Issy.

Don't be afraid to ask for help from your academic tutor if you are struggling to balance your work and studies. Some universities have introduced policies to support students with personal extenuating circumstances related to the rising cost of living.

'My university permits extensions on the basis of the cost-of-living crisis and having to work part time to support yourself, which was hugely helpful to students like me who have rent to pay,' says Issy.

Your institution may be able to offer additional support, such as tutoring, time management assistance, or flexible scheduling options.

While it's important to be careful when taking on extra responsibilities, part-time work can be a great addition to your schedule - motivating you to stay productive throughout the day. For instance, if you have a shift in the afternoon or evening, you'll need to wake up earlier to study in the morning.

Plan your time effectively

Having a part-time job doesn't mean you can't excel in your degree, but it's important to be realistic about your time and workload. If you're not careful, it can be easy to overwork and end up feeling stressed and overwhelmed. That's why it's essential to be highly organised and manage your time well.

One of the best ways to do this is to use a planner or diary to write down all your commitments, including your part-time job shifts, lectures, seminars, and any other outside activities. This will give you a clear visual representation of your time and help you to identify any potential conflicts or gaps. Should you ever be feeling the strain, see our ways to manage student stress and the importance of looking after your mental health at university.

'It can be temping to work a large number of hours, especially if your university classes are only timetabled on specific days of the week,' says Gemma Witts, senior careers adviser at the University of Kent. 'You should remember that independent study is important to your success at university and that there will be busy weeks where lots of assignments are potentially due.'

Balancing work and study can be challenging, but it's definitely possible with careful planning and time management. For more tips, discover our 7 time management tips for students.

Boost your job application

While working part time throughout your studies may be challenging, it equips you with the transferable skills employers are looking for. These are skills that can be applied to any job, regardless of the industry or sector.

'As well as earning money it can help you to develop skills such as teamwork and time management. Organisational skills are also important and considering how to balance your academic workload with part-time work commitments will help you to develop these skills,' says Gemma.

It's important to highlight these in your CV and cover letter. Some of the most common transferable skills that employers value include:

  • problem solving
  • communication
  • leadership
  • adaptability
  • work ethic.

Make sure your application is tailored to the job you're applying for. In your cover letter, explain how you'll put the skills you've developed into practice. Employers at a bar or café won't want to hear about the specific modules in your biomedical sciences degree - but they will be interested to hear how your degree has improved your ability to motivate yourself and work as part of a team, for example.

Take care of yourself

It is important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally in order to balance work and study effectively. This means eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

Find out more about the importance of extra-curricular activities.

It is also important to find healthy ways to manage stress. This could include spending time with loved ones, listening to music, or meditating.

Balancing work and study can be challenging, but it is possible with careful planning and execution. By following the tips above, you can set yourself up for success in both your academic and professional pursuits.

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